Jacob Sullum

Critics of the lobbying reform bill recently passed by the Senate say it doesn't adequately address earmarks, those highly specific appropriations legislators slip into spending bills to help special interests. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spoke for many when he said this kind of spending "has bred lobbyists, which has bred corruption," leading to "all these egregious abuses."

But according to Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Mike Simpson, earmarking is every legislator's constitutional duty. "The framers of the Constitution clearly stated that Congress, not the President or federal bureaucrats, should allocate funding for the various functions of government," the two Idaho Republicans say in an online commentary. "Ending the practice of earmarking would transfer massive funding authority to the President and the federal agencies in defiance of the Constitution."

This defense of pork as not just permitted but mandated by the Constitution gets points for audacity. But Craig and Simpson's fidelity to the Framers' vision is strangely selective, and their argument for earmarking reflects a Capitol Hill mentality that's the strongest reason to oppose the practice.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of earmarks, about 14,000 last year, has more than tripled since 1994. Craig and Simpson concede that "not every one of the thousands of Congressional earmarks has been worthy of support" and that some members of Congress have been guilty of "enriching themselves and their families at the expense of taxpayers."

But the two self-described "fiscal conservatives" defend what they call "earnest earmarks" that direct federal dollars to legislators' states and districts. They proudly cite earmarks they obtained that "built new wastewater infrastructure in Bonners Ferry, supported jobs at the Idaho National Laboratory, improved housing for families at Mountain Home Air Force Base, and expanded course offerings at Boise State University."

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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